It's 1963, John F. Kennedy is still alive, and his demand for civil rights for all Americans has filtered into Louisiana. Such is the setting for Caroline, Or Change, a thought-provoking Broadway musical that explores the world of a Louisiana Jewish family and its relationship with its African American maid, Caroline.
Since its inception in 2003, Caroline, Or Change has earned the admiration of major critics, and its tickets have become a coveted Broadway item. Its success lies in the chemistry among the talented cast and the musical's creators.
For example, fans of the show are divided between what they like best, the music or the lyrics. Jeanine Tesori, the composer of the score, has put together a pleasing mixture of R&B, doo wop, gospel and pop. She was nominated for a Tony and a Grammy for her work on Thoroughly Modern Millie in 2002, and her music for Caroline has contributed to a stellar soundtrack CD.
Those who don't buy tickets for the melodies are attracted to their combined effect with the lyrics of Tony Kushner, who wrote the book for the musical. Kushner is a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. He won Tonys in 1993 and 1994 for Best Play, for Angels in America. His work on Caroline earned him two Tony nominations in 2004.
Obviously, a play needs actors to transmit its message to the audience. Under the direction of George C. Wolfe, the winner of two Tonys for Best Director, the cast has drawn rave reviews and pulled in one Tony. Tonya Pinkins, in the lead role of Caroline, was nominated in 2004 for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical. She won a 1992 Tony for Jelly's Last Jam. Apart from appearing in the musical, Ms. Pinkins plays Livia Frye on All My Children
Anika Noni Rose's efforts in the role of Emmie Thibodeaux won her the 2004 Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. The overall outstanding cast has some unusual roles to fill, as some household items, including the radio and the washing machine, talk to Caroline as she performs her daily duties in the Gellman household.
The musical itself challenges our presumptions about life in Louisiana in 1963. The wealthy Gellman family, part of the Southern aristocracy and part of the Jewish community, is in turmoil because of the recent death of the wife of Stuart Gellman (David Costabile) and the mother of Noah Gellman (Harrison Chad). Now there is a new stepmother, Rose Stopnick Gellman (Veanne Cox), and as she tries to become a mother to Noah, she faces Noah's affection for the maid, Caroline.
The title of the musical plays on two issues of the play: the potential change of Noah's allegiance from Caroline to his stepmother, and the mysterious appearance of coin change in Noah's pockets. As the story leads through the Kennedy assassination to the climax of the family issues, Caroline provides numerous spellbinding dramatic moments in song. If you have tickets to this show, be prepared to shed a tear or two!
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